Bethlehem, 29, from Kharkov, Ukraine, joined the MiNYanim program.
Photo credit Nir Kafri, The Jewish Agency for Israel

By Nathan Roi

“I have learned that what you give is what you get” Bethlehem, 29, a Jewish woman from Kharkov, Ukraine, with Ethiopian roots, joined the MiNYanim program to help make a difference for her Jewish community back home.

Even people with an identity as diverse as that of Bethlehem Andale—an Ethiopian-Ukrainian-Jewish woman—can stand to expand their horizons.

Bethlehem did just that as part of The Jewish Agency’s MiNYanim, a two-year program that enables alumni of Birthright Israel or Masa Israel Journey in Bulgaria, Hungary, Serbia, Bosnia, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Russia to continue their Jewish and Israel studies, increasing community activism in Eastern and Central Europe.

MiNYanim sees intellectual engagement as pivotal to Jewish values. The program ignites a love of learning as participants delve into Jewish textual sources and explore various religious streams and Jewish communities around the globe. MiNYanim teaches participants methods of fostering connections to Israel in their local communities, while empowering young Jews to be agents of change by training them in skills such as management, fundraising, and methodologies in informal Jewish education.

MiNYanim is made possible by the generous support of UJA-Federation of New York and other partners and supporters of The Jewish Agency for Israel.

During the course of two years, MiNYanim participants take part in a minimum of eight hours per month of local study sessions, two regional seminars, one seminar in Israel, and the implementation of community-building projects. In their second year, they provide guidance for the program’s incoming participants.

MiNYanim is made possible by the generous support of UJA-Federation of New York and other partners and supporters of The Jewish Agency for Israel. Photo: Nir Kafri for The Jewish Agency for Israel

Bethlehem, 29, lives in the city of Kharkov in northeast Ukraine. She visited Israel for the first time 10 years ago.

“I had dreamed about Jerusalem for many years,” she recalls. “When I arrived at the Israeli border and an Ethiopian-born Jewish policeman looked at my passport, she could not believe that I am a Jew of Ethiopian origin, living in Ukraine and born in Ukraine.”

In the mid-1990s, Bethlehem’s parents—a doctor and a veterinarian—came to Ukraine separately as medical exchange students from Ethiopia. They did not know each other in Ethiopia, and upon meeting in Ukraine, they initially did not even realize they were both Jewish. Bethlehem was born in the second year of their marriage, grew up in a Jewish atmosphere, and attended a Jewish school in Kharkov. She enrolled in medical school and became a dentist, but has also been a tour guide and a singer. She appeared on “The Voice of Ukraine,” a reality TV singing competition.

“The songs from my album center around love, passion, motivation, and inspiration,” she says, naming Beyoncé and Whitney Houston as her icons.

Bethlehem started her involvement with the MiNYanim program during its “Buildings” seminar in Jerusalem.

“MiNYanim allows me to connect with people from different backgrounds,” she says. “This approach opens new channels and new ways of thinking. The brain grows, the mind becomes clearer. You learn a lot about life, about your Judaism and the path you chose. You become more sensitive to yourself and your community.”

In MiNYanim, young Jews work alongside and within existing Jewish establishments, and create new communal environments in which Jews can engage and interact. During the program’s second year, participants learn more about Jewish identity, values, and community-building; they ultimately create programs and events for other Birthright and Masa graduates.

“I am humbled that I grew up in a Jewish atmosphere religiously, but with MiNYanim I also have the ability to be sensitive,” Bethlehem says. “Most importantly, I have learned that what you give is what you get.”

Courtesy of the Jewish Agency for Israel.